A less painful end
By Vivek Nath Mishra
It was Ghure’s daughter, Anju, who brought in everything Ghure ever desired and gave him some relief from poverty near the end of his life. Ghure’s poverty was partially self earned. Although it was bequeathed to him by his forefathers but he himself left no stone unturned to dig a darker and deeper pit of poverty for him and his family. He drank with almost all of the money he earned from his vegetable store and gambled with most of the money his wife made by washing dishes and mopping floors in the rich houses in the vicinity. His liver had completely ruined and kidneys were failing rapidly. But still he drank as if it was his religion. Like religion which has eroded humanity in every possible way but still the masses remain adhered to it, Ghure drank alcohol similarly even after it shoved him deeper into his grave with each gulp. Doctor had already given his word that it was now unnecessary to admit him in the hospital, that his days were now numbered. Only a month back a blood transfusion was done to him but after getting discharged his health deteriorated like an apple rots if cut open and left in the air. Doctor was now against injecting him and cutting his throat to insert the food pipe. He suggested that they should now take him home and wait for a less painful end. After all these years of suffering and fighting with poverty this was the only thing that was expected from his life- a less painful end.
I knew Ghure since my childhood. When my mother would go to fetch the milk from the dairy every evening; I would follow her on my bicycle. Those evenings were dedicated to my new bicycle. The dairy was in a narrow street which always remained slippery and wet. The cow dung would be everywhere my eyes could go. The pungent smell of cow dung and urine lingered in the air and flared my nostrils. But people never seemed to take notice of it and neither did I in those days. I caressed the little calves who resented my presence near them and took their steps back in fright. Although it took only a little time to win their trust. The other things which attracted my attention were the little sparrows who foraged within the heap of cow dung for little insects and hunted and feasted upon those. It was a bliss for them.
It was my mother’s routine to buy some vegetables on the way as she returned from dairy and there was Ghure’s vegetables shop. It wasn’t actually a shop. He would roll out a few jute bags on a raised platform in the front of his one room house and arrange different variety of vegetables there for display. In the night when he would pack off all the vegetables in a corner of his room, his daughter Anju and his wife would make fire and cook there on the same raised platform. Late in the night, Anju would wash dishes right there on the platform. The platform was as useful as was the room as Ghure would roll out his bed there while the rest of the family slept inside. The thing that caught my eyes was the emptiness of his room. There was nothing in his room except a bed, a tin box underneath it and a few empty bottles of alcohol in the corner. Ghure was younger then but looked older than his age. Poverty makes you age faster, perhaps. He had a thin moustache and his hair line was receding. He would dye his hair and put on a cotton shirt, most of the time of flamboyant colours, wrap a lungi round his waist and sit there at front with a paan tucked in his mouth. My mother would always buy vegetables only from Ghure. Although he always asked for a genuine price but my mother would bargain as if it was an inevitable custom.
Ghure, I think, had three children then. One daughter he had already married off and another one, Anju, I think was of my age around fifteen. She was beautiful and her looks didn’t match anyone in his family as everyone in Ghure’s family had plain poor looks. Ghure’s wife was an ill tempered woman. Although everyone in Ghure’s family, except Anju, spoke loudly and hastily like there was always an emergency and they had no patience or time to listen to one another but Ghure’s wife spoke loud enough to subdue all the other voices around her. Once in a while Ghure and his wife would go violent and snatch and tear each other’s clothes and hair. They exchanged venomous remarks and physical blows. Amidst all that Anju lived like she was deaf and mute. She did what she was asked to do and seldom uttered much than was needed.
There was a belief that he had found her near some station while traveling to the far south on a pilgrimage. He was a pious poor, of course, but pious only when he was sober and it was in his sobriety that he brought this little girl home as neighbours always narrated. However, Ghure always denied it.
There was one more story about Anju’s past people gossiped about that she was a product of illicit affair Ghure had with the beautiful daughter of a wealthy owner of the truck he used to drive far from home, long before he opened this vegetable shop. When the owner came to know about it he threw his daughter out of the house and the lady began living with Ghure but soon died of malarial attack leaving behind the girl she delivered. Ghure brought this girl home in pity. He couldn’t leave her behind. When he was back he had a long beard streaming from his chin down to his chest and people thought he had returned from a pilgrimage. But they always remained dubious about Anju’s past and sought for more details.
It is quite evident that people cannot agree to any relation of beauty with poverty. However, it is also quite true that there are things I do not want to believe in but I have to because they are true. Anju’s contrary demeanour, quite incongruous to her surroundings, gave assistance to people’s narration. My mother also had this firm belief that Anju could not be the product of those two.
There were other noticeable things about Anju but her physical beauty got the most attention. The lecherous gaze of male in the area exploited her beautiful looks. She was reaching puberty and her breasts were still to bloom when male around her had started taking keen interest in her youth. It’s unquestionably true that beauty with poverty is a sin. There would always be men from the vicinity talking to her playfully, courting her, while she washed the dishes on the platform in the front. The most appalling scenario was that that there were men twice her age.
Ghure had a son who kept playing cricket in an abandoned plot for whole day and the family remained inconsiderate to him. He suffered from Filaria and staggered while running. His leg was enlarged and he walked limping. During those days I always wished for such mighty legs. Sometimes when I asked my mother how can I have legs like Ghure’s son my mother scolded me and disposed me off without answering. She never told me that it was a disease as if even the mention of Filaria was ominous, as if the word Filaria was as terrible as was the disease.
I remember Ghure telling my mother that he had married his son twice but both his daughters-in-law ran away only after a few days of their marriages. A thing like that could have broken anyone’s heart but the guy kept playing cricket until he died. However, he didn’t die of a heartbreak; no one does.
Ghure’s son died peacefully. He didn’t wake up one morning. He eloped with death as silently as his wives had eloped with men. I never saw Ghure or his wife crying over the death. It is hard to believe but once I heard Ghure saying that his son’s life was a waste. He was just another mouth for nothing but to aggravate their penury. Poverty and illness make one callous perhaps. Only in poverty and illness does the man’s cynicism completely expose itself.
Next year Ghure’s wife delivered a boy. A compensation to his loss as people took it. The son came up well and he was bodily fit. Later in his life when Ghure had taken ill it was his younger son who looked after his shop. He took interest in the business as he grew up to be no less a drunkard than his father.
When Ghure was nearing his death, I remember, he talked to me a lot about his younger daughter Anju who had now begun going out for work. He told me how she brought medicines that he could never think of he could buy as they were exorbitant. She bought medicines that relieved him of his pain. She had bought a cooler too especially for Ghure as he suffered more in the sweltering heat. The room was now full. There was an almirah standing erect in a corner and television to relieve Ghure of his boredom as he gradually developed bedsores nearing his death. He needed means to forget his pain, something that could make him oblivious of his failing organs. He kept watching television on his deathbed. He didn’t look forward to anything except television and alcohol. It was cruel of Anju to buy her dying father alcohol but Ghure blessed her for that. Ghure had everything he could think of at the end of his life and as Ghure told me it was all made possible because of his daughter Anju. She showed him the days he could never dream of.
But how did she get so much money? This was something nearly everyone wanted to know. I never had to ask him as Ghure himself told me that she got a job of caretaker in a big house and the landlord was very generous. He treated Anju as his daughter and gave her whatever she wanted. Ghure told this to everyone who came buying vegetables. He told this over and over again to every person and to himself to his heart’s content. But it is harder to believe in sheer love than to believe in sheer hatred. It is even harder to believe in utmost honesty than to believe in abominable treachery. Had it been a fairy tale there could have been such a man but it was reality and even if in reality such man would have existed this would have been sounded unpractically dramatic. I don’t think anyone believed him and there was a reason behind that. Reason is something that is always there but it is upon us to notice that or overlook. Perhaps, Ghure had decided to overlook this reason. It seemed cruel to us. But there could be some compulsions of a dying man. Who knows!
There would always be a man to collect Anju from the house. Something Ghure remained elated about. However, one thing that always took my and everyone else’s notice was that there would almost always be a new man, sometimes in a car or sometimes on a bike- but almost always a new man. I never asked Ghure this and I am not sure if he too ever asked himself that. It is cruel to say but people in sheer poverty don’t raise many questions at the coming of money. And also Ghure was in the control of only one thing and that was death. I was interested in these men like my mother and everyone else from the neighbourhood. I was interested in how they talked to her, how they ogled her. I was interested to notice if they stared at her body in sexually aroused state or with mad lust. I wanted to ask Ghure. I wanted to inquire more about his daughter’s profession like my mother and other people in the neighbourhood. They had some objection to her profession, I guess, the same people who had objection to her beauty. But I know one thing that if I never asked him about that it was because I wanted him to have a less painful end as the doctor had recommended.
Vivek Nath Mishra: My short stories have appeared in The Hindu, Queen mob’s Teahouse, Muse India, The Criterion Journal, Cafe Dissensus, Setu, Spillwords, Literary Yard, Indian Ruminations, Prachya Review, Indus women writing, and on many other platforms. Some of my stories are forthcoming in Indian Literature, Adelaide literary magazine and The Punch Magazine. My debut book is ‘Birdsongs of Love and Despair’ published by Hawakal.